North beefing up ties with its traditional allies

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North beefing up ties with its traditional allies

North Korea appears to be strengthening ties with China and Russia after its negotiations with the United States fell through at the Vietnam summit last month.

Pyongyang had been focused on improving relations with Washington to improve its economic situation, but since the two-day summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump ended without any agreement on Feb. 28, there has been a series of recent exchanges with traditional allies Beijing and Moscow, an indication it may be setting a backup plan in motion.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Sunday that North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Im Chon-il met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov in Moscow Thursday to discuss boosting high-level exchanges and economic cooperation.

According to the KCNA, the two foreign ministries agreed to boost high-level contact and exchanges in the political field, promote economic and humanitarian cooperation, and bolster “collaboration in tackling the issue of the Korean Peninsula and on the international arena, and thus steadily develop the traditional and strategic DPRK-Russia relations.” DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. They also signed a two-year plan for exchanges between their foreign ministries.

Im also met with Sergey Vershinin, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, on Saturday to exchange views on ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the North Korea-Russia agreement on economic and cultural cooperation.

A delegation of the Russian Federal Assembly also arrived in Pyongyang Saturday, according to the KCNA, to mark the 70th anniversaries of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung’s first official visit to Russia and the conclusion of the agreement on economic and cultural cooperation between the DPRK and Russia. The group of Russian senators was led by Oleg Melnichenko, who also serves as the chairman of the Russia-DPRK Friendship Parliamentary Group.

Russia’s TASS News Agency reported that the Russian senators’ six-day visit runs through Thursday and they will hold meetings aimed at continuing dialogue with North Korea.

Sergey Kislyak, a Russian senator who serves as first deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee for Foreign Affairs, told TASS Saturday that the goal of the Pyongyang visit “is to continue the dialogue with a country that is friendly to us and that is solving most difficult problems in the foreign and domestic policies.”

Kislyak added that they “wish to better understand the aspirations of our North Korean neighbors,” and that “this dialogue is an absolutely natural, normal practice.”

This comes after North Korean Minister for External Economic Affairs Kim Yong-jae met with Alexander Kozlov, Russia’s minister for the development of the Far East, on March 6 at a bilateral meeting on bolstering cooperation in trade and economy.

Such exchanges could possibly pave the way for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to visit Moscow later this year for a first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The talks between the vice foreign ministers took place Thursday, but North Korean state media only reported on it four days later. In between, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui on Friday warned that Pyongyang will not yield to Washington in negotiations.

Pyongyang also reportedly sent a high-level delegation to Beijing last week, which included North Korean diplomat Kim Hyok-chol, a negotiator for the denuclearization talks with the United States. Yet neither North Korea nor China has officially confirmed this. Kim of the North’s State Affairs Commission held working-level talks with Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, before the second North-U.S. summit.

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to support North Korea in his summit with leader Kim Jong-un in their summit in Beijing last January.

Analysts speculate that North Korea has been working on a Plan B after the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, fell through, and could be trying to make a breakthrough by cementing the backing of its traditional supporters Russia and China.

“North Korea’s strategy was to gain sanctions relief through improving relations with the United States and secure foreign investments and support to pursue economic revitalization,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. “That is why it went all-in on its negotiations with the United States, but since things didn’t go as planned, North Korea could have intentions to make a breakthrough by requesting diplomatic and economic support from China and Russia.”

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